The Maryland Terrapins (6-3, 3-2 ACC) kick off a pivotal two-game home stretch on Saturday afternoon when they take on No. 16 North Carolina (7-2, 3-2 ACC) in a game with huge conference title implications for both teams.
After falling 23-13 to Virginia Tech last Thursday night, the Terps still control their own destiny in the Atlantic Division as they dropped just half a game behind Florida State and Wake Forest.
There is a possibility Maryland may go to Tampa Bay if they win their remaining games, but the Terps unfortunately have the hardest schedule left among the other Atlantic Division teams in contention.
Florida State, Wake Forest, and even Boston College are in the hunt for the Atlantic Division title. Only in the ACC can a team like Boston College with a 2-3 conference record still make it to the championship game.
The Coastal Division is even more of a mess with 3-2 records from Miami, Virginia Tech, and UNC. Tech and Miami play this evening and the winner will capture sole possession of first place in the division, until Saturday that is.
The Tar Heels have a chance to capitalize on the parity of the conference when they travel to College Park this Saturday in what will be the conference's biggest game of the weekend.
UNC already knocked Georgia Tech out of contention after their 28-7 victory last weekend. Quarterback Cameron Sexton threw for two touchdown passes, while running back Ryan Houston racked up another two scores on the ground.
Expect Carolina to use Houston tactically after Maryland's horrid run defense made a star out of Virginia Tech running back Darren Evans last week. The freshman RB collected a school-record of 253 yards last Thursday, which has caused major reshuffling on the Terrapin defensive line.
Maryland hopes to regroup after last week's loss and playing in the comfortable confines of Byrd Stadium can only help. The team is undefeated at home this season and has consecutively beat five ranked opponents dating back to last year.
Saturday's match-up will prove to be the Terrapins most difficult opponent yet until a resurgent Florida State comes to town the following week.
Maryland's defense does not act as an advantage this year, therefore, they must rely on the offense to put up as many points as possible in order to have a chance at victory. It won't be easy with UNC leading the nation with 18 intercepted passes.
Maryland's offensive line also needs to improve its run blocking in order for running backs Da'Rel Scott and Davin Meggett to accrue positive yardage, while quarterback Chris Turner works to find ways to get the ball to wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey. As evidenced last week by his 63-yard touchdown, this junior is a playmaker.
Prediction: 35-24 North Carolina.
Unless the Terrapins increase their aggression on defense and stop giving up the big plays, the Tar Hells will leave Byrd Stadium victorious. North Carolina doesn't have the balanced offense that the Terrapins do, but their defense will ultimately win the game. Undoubtedly, Florida State will be watching closely.